Su Casa/AIA Albuquerque Residential Design Award Winner

true to tradition

Award-winning architect Edmund Boniface hews close to the roots of Santa Fe style while incorporating modern materials and construction techniques.

This article first appeared in Winter 2008 Su Casa

As someone who has worked creatively with his hands and his wits, who has firsthand understanding of materials, and who possesses a deep sense of context and commitment to place, architect Edmund Boniface approaches the design and building of a house from an unusually multifaceted perspective. The result, after 20 years of architectural practice in Santa Fe, is a style that is calm, strong, straightforward, site appropriate, and meticulously planned.

As illustrated by his two award-winning homes in the 2007 Su Casa/AIA Albuquerque Residential Design competition, Boniface bridges the divide between an overstated—some would say caricatured—“Santa Fe style” and a hard-edged contemporary look that tosses out regional identity and throws away the past. When plasterers are finishing interior walls, for instance, he tells them to skip the darby (a long tool for an ultra-smooth surface and sharp edges) and use hand trowels instead. “It allows the material to speak for itself and makes slightly wiggly edges,” the soft-spoken architect points out. “To me what’s wrong with the overdone Santa Fe style is that the true craftsman, even a century ago, would take pride in trying to get it smooth.”

Similarly, while floors in Boniface’s Garcia Street infill house, which received an honor award, are recycled walnut, they are sanded and polished as if new. Large square ceiling beams, cut from dead standing New Mexico Douglas fir, were given a smooth finish as well. The home has no distressed wood, no faux-aged look. “We’re not trying to be fake old,” Boniface observes. “We’re being truthful about what the materials are.”

Today, Boniface is both architect (with his firm Boniface + Associates) and contractor (Boniface Construction). The architect’s need for authenticity may arise from having worked with his hands in age-old trades where no surface treatment can hide a poorly done job. In his early 20s, after hitchhiking around the country for a year, Boniface—originally from the California coast—spent several years in New Mexico’s Mora Valley, where he learned blacksmithing and horseshoeing from an old man with deep family roots in northern New Mexico. Living in an aging former morada (a Penitente meeting house) of thick-walled adobe, the young man began to appreciate the use of indigenous materials and the experience of changing light and comforting shelter that such a structure provides.

He also learned to break and train horses, and at one point rode horseback deep into the Colorado Rockies to rendezvous with a friend with whom he planned to continue to Wyoming. A five-day drenching rain weakened his ropes, however, and one night during a thunderstorm his horse and pack horse broke loose and ran away. Stranded and alone with no supplies, somehow he made it back home.

Then came a move to the former mining town of Madrid, New Mexico, where Boniface put his hands to work at various trades, established a fire department after losing a friend in a blaze, and served as chair of the town council. At 28, as he confronted a lack of intellectual stimulation in his life, his wife at the time suggested architecture school. “She said, ‘Everything you do has something to do with design. I think you should become an architect.’ I said, ‘What’s an architect?’”

Boniface smiles. As the son of a single mother in Los Angeles, his cultural education didn’t begin until he was 16 and his mother got a job as a tour guide at the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. Following her through the castle’s magnificent, ornate rooms after hours, he absorbed a sense of what an elaborately planned space could be—he just had no concept of the profession that made it happen.

Today, a key element in Boniface’s approach to home design involves something he calls Nature, Mysticism, Woman, and Man. He credits the idea to Robert Walters, a professor at the University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning, where Boniface earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees. It means recognizing that architecture is essentially about the inhabitants and their lifestyle and needs. It also is about the structure’s relationship with the land, and that once built, a home has its own spirit and evolves over time. This is how the “poetic” qualities of design—the sculpting of space and ever-changing play of light, for example—merge with functional requirements, Boniface believes.

The home of William and Leslie Talbot, which earned a merit award in the Su Casa/AIA design competition, illuminates these points. The architect and owners spent many hours together walking the land in a newly opened development southeast of Santa Fe before choosing a lot. Knowing how future houses would likely be sited, Boniface suggested a specific lot, as well as the home’s placement and orientation. The goal was maximum privacy, minimally obstructed views, an unobtrusive profile of the house itself, and an environmentally sensitive impact on the land—“I want a house to not fight the topography,” Boniface says.

The Talbots, well versed in New Mexico history and the work of John Gaw Meem, shared Boniface’s vision of an architectural design inspired by Territorial style but adapted for the site and their family’s needs. Factored into the plans were details as specific as their daughter’s piano, keeping direct sunlight away from rare maps and prints on the walls of Bill Talbot’s office, and a large, well-lit laundry/storage/craft room.

The Su Casa/AIA jury, in fact, describes the residence as a “happy house” and a “nice place to raise a family.” Bill Talbot calls hiring Boniface “the best money I ever spent,” adding that the next best was having Boniface build the house. It is among a small percentage of homes Boniface designs that he also agrees to build. The architect brings in his own construction team in the case of a “really special design—if I think it would be fun,” he explains.
Underscoring central aspects of Boniface’s design philosophy in the Talbot home are long lines of sight through multiple rooms, the framing of views, a sense of proportion, and the layering of space within the house. For example, the main hallway contains a visual division of space through periodic ceiling arches, changes in ceiling height—a “moment of compression and then lifting,” as Boniface puts it—and subtle shifts in brick patterns in the floor. Ceiling heights in both the Talbot and Garcia Street homes are proportional to the size of the room, with smaller, more intimate rooms complemented by slightly lower ceilings.

In both houses, green-building features include 18-inch, double-frame construction with blown-in super-insulation. The result is a regionally traditional feeling of deep windows and thick walls, yet with the high insulation value of modern materials and building techniques. Another blend of old and new pairs a contemporary stainless-steel slot sink with a counter of Mexican Talavera tile in a butler’s pantry joining the dining area and kitchen at the Talbot home.

The Garcia Street house was built on a challenging triangular-shaped lot in Santa Fe’s historic district, on the site of a structure that was condemned and razed. The Su Casa/AIA jury calls the new home a “masterful achievement” for its integration into the historic neighborhood and for its thoughtful, aesthetically pleasing design. For one thing, although the house is within yards of a busy street, its super-insulated walls, high-quality materials, and encompassing garden wall result in virtually no traffic sounds audible from inside.

The 1,800-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath residence also feels bigger than it is, thanks in part to layers of space that offer a line of sight through four successive rooms and into an outdoor dining area. Windows, generous in numbers and size and with large divided panes, connect the inside and outdoors while retaining a sense of homey warmth. At the same time, the garden wall and landscaping create an inward-focused, protective feeling of privacy in the midst of a tightly packed neighborhood.

As with every project, the design process involved hand sketches, computer-aided renderings, a three-dimensional model—and one rather unusual step. In his mind, Boniface slowly walked through the unbuilt house, room by room. When he came upon areas that required more understanding, he drew pictures of them, projecting an image from his mind and “tracing” it onto the paper. He notes a striking similarity between the drawings and photos of the finished space. “Architecture is such a temporal experience,” he observes. “The space changes as you walk through it from one room to another, and it changes over time, throughout the day and seasons. Those changes, and the feelings they inspire, are what architecture is all about.”

Gussie Fauntleroy, a longtime Santa Fe resident, writes about homes, art, and architecture for national and regional magazines, among them Art & Antiques, Southwest Art, New Mexico Magazine, and Native Peoples Magazine. She is the author of three books about visual artists.

Garcia Street infill (pages 84–87)
Unless otherwise noted, businesses below are in Santa Fe, the area code is 505, and the prefix for websites is www.
Architect: Edmund A. Boniface, AIA, Boniface + Associates, 983-5266, boniface.com. Builder: Edmund A. Boniface, Boniface Construction,
983-5266, boniface.com. Interior design: Marilyn Manley, Agua Dulce, CA, tjmanley@aol.com. Appliances: KitchenAid, kitchenaid.com, and Viking, vikingrange.com, from Baillio’s Electronics & Appliances, 438-3039, baillios.com. Armoire: KITCHEN American Home, Albuquerque, 883-2211, americanhome.com. Artwork: BEDROOM Jackalope, jackalope.com. Bedroom furniture: made in Morocco, purchased at Urban Habitat, Burbank, CA, 818/954-0588, urbanhabitatstyle.com. Brick: brick parapets, brick floors on portales, and brick fireplaces, David Valdez, Atalaya Construction Inc., 577-0824. Cabinetry: Rancho Viejo Custom Woods LLC, Albuquerque,
352-8944. Dish: (on kitchen table) Jackalope, jackalope.com. Doors: Rancho Viejo Custom Woods LLC, Albuquerque, 352-8944. Electrical: T. A.’s Lightning Electric Inc., 471-2253. Fireplace: David Valdez, Atalaya Construction Inc., 577-0824. Flooring: wide plank walnut flooring provided by Plaza Hardwood Inc., 992-3260, plzfloor.com; and installed by The McClain Co., Albuquerque, 247-4848. Heating & cooling: Roadrunner Mechanical Services Inc., Albuquerque, 681-3684. Insulation: Duke Insulation, Albuquerque, 344-3441. Kitchen table & chairs: Urban Habitat, Burbank, CA, 818/954-0588,
urbanhabitatstyle.com. Lighting: Allbright & Lockwood, 986-1715; and Ray of Light, 474-6268. Plaster & stucco: GMB Construction Inc., 471-8162. Plumbing: Sierra Mesa Plumbing & Heating Inc., 473-2275. Roofing: Lopez Roofing Service Inc., 471-8332. Rugs: BEDROOM from India. Wall system: double frame walls with blown-in super insulation. Windows: Pella
Windows & Doors, 474-4112, pella.com.
Talbot residence (pages 88–89)
Unless otherwise noted, businesses below are in Santa Fe, the area code is 505, and the prefix for websites is www.
Architect: Edmund A. Boniface, AIA, Boniface + Associates, 983-5266, boniface.com. Builder: Edmund A. Boniface and Tom Reidy, B+R
Construction, 983-5266. Interior design: William R. and Leslie F. Talbot. Artwork: LIVING ROOM (above fireplace) The Back Yard by Morris Blackburn, oil on board, 1967–68, Taos, McClees Galleries, Haverford, PA; (on window ledge) 19th-century Mexican olla, Leslie Flynt, 955-9901, leslieflynt.com. Brick: parapets, portal floors, and fireplaces, J. S. Masonry, Tesuque, NM, 983-5720. Cabinetry & island: Robert S. Pepper Cabinetmakers Inc.,
471-0500. Chest: LIVING ROOM late-19th-century Guatemalan painted chest, Leslie Flynt, 955-9901, leslieflynt.com. Coffee table: LIVING ROOM 1940s New Mexican hand-carved pine table. Doors: front door, Obras LLC, San Juan Pueblo, 852-1155; interior doors, Pacific Mutual Door & Window, Albuquerque, 823-2505, pacificmutualdoor.com. Electrical: T. A.’s Lightning Electric Inc., 471-2253. Flooring: red oak flooring provided by Plaza Hardwood Inc., 992-3260, plzfloor.com; installed by The McClain Co., Albuquerque, 247-4848. Hardware: Santa Fe Hardware, 995-0411, santafehardware.com. Heating & cooling: Sierra Mesa Plumbing & Heating Inc., 473-2275. Insulation: Duke Insulation, Albuquerque, 344-3441. Lighting: Ray of Light, 474-6268; outdoor fixtures, Artesanos Imports Co., 471-8020, artesanos.com. Outdoor furniture: Mexican equipales; table by David Marsh, Texas; 1950s New Mexican carved chairs, Leslie Flynt,
955-9901, leslieflynt.com. Plaster & stucco: Santa Lucia Lath & Plaster,
690-8401. Plumbing: Sierra Mesa Plumbing & Heating Inc., 473-2275. Roofing: Lopez Roofing Service Inc., 471-8332. Rugs: LIVING ROOM antique Oriental carpet. Wall system: double frame walls with blown-in super insulation. Windows: Pella Windows & Doors, 474-4112, pella.com.